PEMBROKE — When The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team had its strong start, coach Pete Shinnick to downplay the excitement. The reality was that the Braves had been haunted previously by struggles down the stretch.
After a 6-4 season last year, the core of the team was determined not to let it happen again.
“That group got together and decided what this year was going to look like,” Shinnick said. “I’m very pleased with what they’ve been able to do, what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
The result of the effort was in full effect Saturday as the No. 10 Braves ended the regular season with a 63-0 win against Virginia-Lynchburg, which puts the team at 9-1 and will likely result in a home playoff game when the brackets are announced this afternoon.
The Braves dominated on both sides of the ball, racking up 611 offensive yards and allowing only 83.
It’s both the highest scoring game in school history, topping a 60-point effort against Tusculum on Nov. 2, and the team’s only shutout of the year.
It was the result of a determined effort by the Braves, who were disappointed with a 30-8 win at Lynchburg last year, which included an offensive struggle in the first half.
UNCP left little question, scoring 28 points in the second quarter to go up 35-0 at halftime. The Braves never let off the gas, scoring four more touchdowns in the second half.
“To be able to come back and score and keep the pressure on (in the second half) was what we told our guys and what our seniors wanted to do,” Shinnick said. “They wanted to make sure we were focused at halftime, play two complete halves. I’m extremely pleased.”
The win came largely behind the arm of quarterback Luke Charles, who went 30 for 39 for 433 yards and six touchdowns. The yardage and touchdown marks broke his own records and he became the only quarterback in school history to throw for 3,000 yards.
“Being a part of this is amazing,” Charles said. “To be a part of the group that last year, after West Liberty, we looked at each other and said ‘you know guys, this is not a good feeling.’ For all of us to commit with each other, just say we won’t let this happen again, and it hasn’t, to have that commitment, that’s why we’re doing so good.”
Charles found a handful of teammates, be it Te’vell Williams, who had 103 yards, or Rontonio Stanley, who had 71 yards receiving and 44 rushing, to get yards both through screens and long balls.
In once instance, he set up B.J. Bunn, a 70-yard receiver, with a long pass to double coverage near the endzone, causing Bunn to leap up and grab the lob.
The pass game’s only hiccup was two interceptions from Charles, who left the game in the third quarter
Stanley led the rushing game, which had 149 yards split relatively equally by a quartet of backs. Demetrius Fariley had 38, Elliott Powell had 28 and backup quarterback Jonathan Efird had 28 yards on two carries.
Stanley later left the game after tweaking his ankle. Shinnick said he likely would have been able to continue play if he needed to and doesn’t expect him to miss the start of the playoffs.
UNCP’s defense kept Lynchburg out of the redzone with the exception of one drive that started on a turnover. Even then, the Braves kept the Dragons out of the end zone.
UNCP didn’t allow a third or fourth down conversion the entire ame and allowed 45 passing yards and 38 rushing.
“They were dialed in,” Shinnick said. “They were very disgusted with how they played a year ago against Lynchburg and Shane Richardson, our DC, just did a fantastic job of showing them on film where our effort wasn’t what we wanted a year ago, but our effort was great today.”
The win meant that the team could acknowledge a playoff berth. The brackets will be announced tonight and the Braves are expected to host a home game. They could even receive a first-round bye.
“We’re ready for it,” Shinnick said. “If it’s next weekend at Grace P. Johnson Stadium, we’ll be fired up for it. If we get a bye, fantastic.”